the french dispatch – marketing recap

How Searchlight Pictures has sold a symmetrical literary movie from a symmetrical literary filmmaker.

The French Dispatch poster

There’s been a startling – and disappointing – lack of hot takes about how The French Dispatch is opening the same weekend as Dune means a showdown between two filmmakers who, unlike many assigned that title by studio marketing departments, can truly be called visionary. Dune’s Denis Villeneuve creates stark, massively scaled backdrops for the characters to perform within, while Wes Anderson is known for creating detailed, symmetrical dollhouse rooms that are just as quirky and slightly dingy as the characters inhabiting them.

(Both of those movies also star Timothée Chalamet, which in and of itself is…wow…)

Anderson’s films have always carried highly literary themes. Playwrights abound in his films and characters are always journaling, sending cables or handwritten letters or writing books about their experiences. Now he brings those themes to the fore with what’s been described by him and others as “a love letter” to journalists and magazine writers.

At the center of the story is The French Dispatch, a magazine modeled after The New Yorker. Edited by Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), the periodical has a number of writers, illustrators, photographers and writers, each of whom are followed in their own sub-stories. Playing those contributors are Anderson regulars like Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Angelica Huston, Edward Norton and others, with Elisabeth Moss, Léa Seydoux, Timothée Chalamet and others joining in the highly-stylized hijinks as well.

announcements and casting

Initial news about the movie came in mid-2018, with initial reports saying Anderson was developing a musical comedy set in France. The casting of Tilda Swinton and Mathieu Amalric was announced at that time with most of the rest of the principle cast joining in the last months of 2018.

Plot details were revealed in September 2019 at the same time Fox Searchlight announced it had acquired the film. A few months later in January 2020 a release date in July of that year was announced.

the first try at marketing

In February 2020 the first set of exclusive photos debuted in, of all places, The New Yorker.

The poster released at that time is so on-brand for an Anderson film it hurts a little. Illustrated by Spanish artist Javi Aznarez (whose work is seen in the movie as well), it displays the offices of the titular magazine as quirky drawings, the faux French city it’s based in seen in the background. Each of the top-billed cast is shown and named here.

The first trailer (5.5m YouTube views) came out at that time as well. It starts by introducing us to Arthur Howitzer Jr. and his publication, The French Dispatch, intended to share stories of interest about politics, culture and more. After briefly meeting some of the people who work at the Dispatch the trailer shifts to showing us the three stories being covered by the magazine and which the movie will follow. What’s shown is an assortment of dry wit, colorful quirkiness and odd characterizations that are part and parcel in Anderson’s work and therefore immediately attractive to anyone who’s a fan of the filmmaker’s.

While reports abounded that the movie would premiere at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival that wound up not happening because the festival itself didn’t happen save for a scaled-back virtual event.

Cinematographer Robert Yeoman was interviewed about the books and movies Anderson put together as a reference library for the cast and crew to use.

There was a feature profile of Chalamet in October 2020 that covered the actor’s role in this film as well as his rise to stardom over the last few years, including comments from Anderson.

At this point Disney/Searchlight pulled the movie from its release schedule for the time being while the pandemic continued to cause uncertainty and delays across the board.

a second attempt at marketing

Things picked back up in May of this year when a new release date was announced along with the news it had been selected to screen at both the Cannes Film Festival and New York Film Festival

Details on the film’s soundtracks, always a highlight of Anderson’s work, were released in early June.

During the Cannes press cycle, which included the cast arriving to the screening in a party bus, Wilson was interviewed about his decades-long collaboration with Anderson and how original he feels this latest movie is. That cycle also produced a much-circulated meme using a photo of Anderson and the three primary leads.

A clip was released at the same time showing Zeffirelli soliciting feedback on his manifesto.

Costar Henry Winkler, a newcomer to the Anderson troupe, spoke about the movie on “Late Night” in July.

In early August Searchlight revealed fans could sign up to receive an actual issue of the titular newsletter, with a video promoting the newsletter released showing the cast flipping through it and reacting to its contents.

August also brought a new poster, this one showing the massive cast assembled via obviously cut-out photos pasted together into a collage.

A number of short videos came out around that time that each focused on stories for the paper being filed by the various reporters and writers. There were videos from Sazerac, Berensen, Krementz and Wright.

Anderson begins a featurette by explaining just exactly what the movie is and what format it takes. Murray, Wilson and others from the cast also appear to introduce their characters and offer insights into what those characters add to the story.

The producers and production designers were profiled here about how they went about creating that signature Anderson look of symmetry and scale.

A set of character posters all featured those characters standing or sitting in a pose that hints at who they are and what they do, with the design background helping to communicate their actual background.

An Anderson-directed video for “Aline” came out toward the end of September to keep things going and hint at what the rest of the soundtrack would sound like.

New York’s MoMA held a screening of all 10 of Anderson’s films, including this one, over 10 consecutive nights at the beginning of October.

How the set designers, costumers and others created the world of the movie was covered in this profile of the technical aspects of production.

Murray and others appeared at the BFI London Film Fest screening of the movie earlier this month. The same kind of pop-up cafe experience was also staged in London around this time. The film also screened at the Chicago International Film Festival.

A featurette that focused on the eclectic and impressive cast was released last week. Another had that cast talking about bonding on set and how Anderson creates a family-like atmosphere during filming.

TV spots like this finally started running just days before the film’s release, selling little about the story but instead communicating both the cast and the very Anderson-like tone and look.

Also in New York City, Searchlight launched another pop-up cafe experience where visitors could come by and immerse themselves in a small bit of the film’s world.

overall

If a Wes Anderson movie campaign communicates that it’s for a Wes Anderson movie and contains all the necessary elements – dry line delivery, balanced imagery, clever illustrations, unique use of aspect ratios etc – then it can objectively be considered successful. After all, this is not going to bring in many converts. Instead it’s meant to speak primarily to Anderson die-hards who are already on board with the director’s style.

Wes Anderson Applause GIF by Searchlight Pictures - Find & Share on GIPHY

Little Women – Marketing Recap

How Sony is selling the latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel.

little women poster 9The story of Little Women is one that’s been told on film a number of times over the decades. Now writer/director Greta Gerwig is bringing her own interpretation of the material to screens with an all-star cast and a modern sensibility that still retains the story’s original setting.

As always, the story revolves around the women of the March family, with matriarch Marmee (Laura Dern) and daughters Beth (Eliza Scanlen), Amy (Florence Pugh), Meg (Emma Watson) and Jo (Saoirse Ronan). With the men all gone fighting the Civil War they have to make it on their own and count on each other. All four have their own dreams and desires but come up against the standards of the time, which don’t let a woman claim her independence or make her own way in the world.

In marketing the film, Columbia Pictures/Sony has relied on audience’s familiarity with the source material while also promoting the presence of some of today’s most buzzed-about young actors.

The Posters

Jo is shown running toward the camera on the first poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) from October. The other main characters are relegated to horizontal photo strips off to the side, there to be shown off to the audience but clearly not the focus of the movie. “Own your story” conveys the take-charge attitude audiences will encounter when they see it.

A series of character posters that offer fuller looks at the cast came out shortly after that.

One final poster shows the four March sisters looking anxiously out the window anxiously, emphasizing one more time the weight of the cast on display here.

The Trailers

It’s very much the classic story we’re all familiar with being shown in the first trailer (7.6 million views on YouTube), released in early August. While the characters and plot may be largely known to us, the selling point then becomes the cast that’s been assembled by Gerwig, one that includes some of the most buzzed-about talent working today. Aside from that, the message sent to the audience is that women can do whatever it is they want and should be allowed to do so my men and society as a whole, which still remains an important one.

Online and Social

There’s actually some good stuff on the movie’s official website, including a “March Sisters Quiz” to help you determine which one you’re the most like.

Advertising and Publicity

The movie gained significant awards season momentum following a press/SAG/DGA screening in October.

Laurie asks Jo to dance in the first clip, released in early November. A second clip released a bit later has the two discussing the economic realities of love and marriage in the era. Additional clips had Auntie Marsh talking about Jo’s need to be married and her frustration at the whole of patriarchal society.

An extended TV commercial came out in late November that offered a recap of the story, focusing on Jo’s special place in the family and her unwillingness to accept the fate that awaits her as a woman in that era.

The movie’s premiere was held last week, with Gerwig and the cast all showing up to chat about the production and more.

Little Free Libraries was the only promotional partner for the film, putting movie-branded boxes of books in select cities across the country. Sony donated 2,000 copies of Little Women to be stocked in those and other locations as well.

Most of the cast participated in a “Tiny Kitchen” vignette, watching as a movie-themed tiny kitchen was assembled.

Media and Press

While also talking about other projects, Ronan spoke on what it was like to reunite with her Lady Bird director. Pugh commented on the movie and its story while she was in Sundance earlier this year promoting other projects. Reports circulated in April that this was the second choice Sony had in mind if Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, the new movie from Quentin Tarantino, wasn’t ready for screening at Cannes.

Vanity Fair offered a first look at the pairing of Ronan and Chalamet in mid-June. Interviews with Pugh while she was promoting Midsomer earlier this year often included comments about transitioning from that production to this one and what a welcome relief the change was.

An interview with Gerwig from about the same time the trailer was released has her sharing her thoughts on assembling the powerful cast and making the most of their talents.

A brief Chalamet profile came out that touched only on very high-level topics and only briefly mentioned this movie. That came at about the same time as an EW cover story featuring both Chalamet and Ronan where they talked about working together again and the natural chemistry they enjoy on screen as well as an interview with Pugh where she shared her approach to her character and attachment to the material.

The October screening included a Q&A with Gerwig and the cast where they talked about the story and how they got into character.

What drew her to offer yet another take on the familiar story and how she assembled the impressive cast were covered by Gerwig in another interview where she talked about the research she did in preparation for production. The ways in which she and the cast updated that material were the topic of a joint profile with her and Pugh.

While the focus was on other things, costar Tracy Letts briefly commented on his enthusiasm for working with Gerwig again after getting to know her while filming Lady Bird.

Chalamet spoke about the movie when he appeared on “Late Night” several weeks ago.

A profile of Ronan had her acknowledging the likely importance of this role in her career while also emphasizing how committed she was to getting that role while Gerwig talked about how she approached Jo and working with the actor.

In a nice touch, the movie was endorsed by Gillian Armstrong, who directed the much-loved 1994 version.

How cast and crew assembled to make the very old novel interesting and relevant to the modern times was the subject of an extended feature profile that encompassed comments from many of those involved.

Gerwig’s influence on the story and her ability to manage the cast were all commented on by those involved at the film’s premiere a few weeks ago.

Members of the cast made a major foray into the late night talk show arena beginning a couple weeks ago. “The Tonight Show” hosted Chalamet, “The Late Show” featured Ronan and Pugh.

The stars of the film expressed their collective dismay at Gerwig’s being overlooked for a Golden Globes director nomination.

The movie’s release allowed for a new conversation about the source book and its rightful place in the American literary canon and the reasons it might not be currently occupying that position.

Gerwig spoke about how long she’s had the ending of the movie in mind and what it took for her to get it made.

Overall

Selling an all-female drama set in during the Civil War should be a hard task, but by selling it as a piece of modern filmmaking with whipsmart dialogue uttered by some of the most critically-praised actors in recent years is a solid way around that problem.

A movie like this should be benefitting from all sorts of awards season buzz, but as many people have noted it’s oddly not. The reasons why are unknown (though plenty of speculation has been bandied about) but whatever they are it means a crucial part of the hype cycle is missing, which could impact its chances for success at the box office as well.

Despite that, what’s sold here is all manner of enticing. Throughout the campaign Gerwig has promised anything but a staid period drama. Instead what audiences are offered is a vital, fresh, energetic take on the material that reflects both the past and the present.

Picking Up the Spare

A new behind the scenes featurette has been released along with another that focused on Gerwig’s direction.

Gerwig started making a few late night appearances along with participating in a number of additional interviews on the inspirations for the story, her work building the world of the film, her long personal journey with the story. She also appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and her early awards season snubs.

Also getting some attention was the film’s costume and production designers.

Another profile of Pugh here that talked about this movie and her career as a whole. She also appeared on late night to promote the movie and talk about the various Oscar snubs.

The movie has increased interest in and attendance at the Alcott family home in Massachusetts.

The King – Marketing Recap

Once more into the tale of the reluctant English king and the tumultuous life of the hero of Agincourt.

the king posterThe story of King Henry V, famously told over the course of several plays by William Shakespeare, once more comes to the screen in this week’s The King. Timothée Chalamet stars as Prince Hal, who’s living a life dreading the day when he eventually ascends to the throne of England.

When that day comes, the newly-crowned Harry finds that palace life is a constant fight for survival among the political schemers inhabiting the halls. Not only that, but he must finish the war his late father started. With such pressure and few allies, Harry turns to the advice of trusted advisor and friend John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton) to help survive threats both internal and external.

Netflix is putting the film, directed by David Michôd, who co-wrote it with Edgerton, in theaters for a limited time beginning this week before it comes to the streaming service in early November. With a 78% Rotten Tomatoes score, it’s just the latest high-profile drama to receive that kind of platform release from the company.

The Posters

Henry looks pensive and tortured on the poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in August. He’s dressed for battle and looks like he’s already been through more than a bit. “All hail” reads the copy placed in the middle of his chest.

The Trailers

Netflix released the first trailer (3.6 million views on YouTube) in August, just before the movie’s planned premiere at the Venice Film Festival. As it starts, Hal is ambivalent about the responsibility he’s been given and weighed down by the expectations of those around him. He needs people he can trust, a group that’s in short supply as he faces palace intrigue as well as actual war. Not much else is shown as the trailer is primarily aimed at establishing the look and feel of the movie and showing the dramatic performances from the lead cast.

Online and Social

Nothing here, though Netflix gave it some support on its brand social channels.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie had been in production at Warner Bros. for years, but Netflix acquired the project in early 2018.

In July the announcement came the movie would have its world premiere at this year’s Venice Film Festival. It also just screened at the recent BFI London Film Festival. It had its premiere red carpet in New York late last week.

There may have been some online ads, especially in the areas where the movie is playing in theaters. More are likely to come when it’s available via streaming.

Media and Press

A first-look photo featuring Chalamet was released at the time of the Venice Film Festival announcement. While the movie was at the festival, writer-director David Michôd was interviewed, commenting on why he chose to cast Pattinson in the film.

At the movie’s premiere in early October, Chalamet spoke about his approach to a character he was previously unfamiliar with and more.

Most of the rest of the press focused on Chalamet’s answers to unrelated questions like how he thought costar Robert Pattinson would do as Batman and such.

Overall

It’s a story that is likely familiar to most people who actually paid attention in junior year English class, but the addition of Chalamet, it’s hoped, brings more eyeballs to the project. The campaign obviously emphasizes his role in the movie, making sure to present him as a young man with the literal weight of the world on his shoulders.

“Prestige” is the primary message being sent. Netflix is selling the movie as a prestige film from a handful of very hot stars and filmmakers, the kind of thing that used to be commonplace in theaters every October and November. That’s communicated in the dim, dirty poster and the dramatic nature of the trailer, showing the toll all the intrigue and warfare takes on the soul of a young man who wants none of it.

Picking Up the Spare

Michod spoke here about Pattinson’s role and how the actor didn’t require much in the way of directing or coaching.

Netflix has begun running more online ads as the movie nears its release date on the streaming service. It also released a new trailer that positions it even more so as an epic political story.

Chalamet got another brief profile here.

More from Chalamet when he appeared on “Late Night” to promote this and other recent projects.

Netflix put out another featurette that shared some of the real stories behind Henry V and how that was represented in the film. A second has the film’s writers detailing how they shot the film’s key battle sequence.

How the movie’s production designer managed to recreate key locations is covered in this interview.

Beautiful Boy – Marketing Recap

beautiful boy posterSteve Carell plays David and Timothée Chalamet his son Nic in the new movie Beautiful Boy, based on the real life story told in the book of the same name. David is a loving father who wants nothing but the best for his son, something that’s difficult given Nic’s recurring substance abuse problems that keep him on the streets, in one rehab clinic after another and which cause nothing but friction between the two.

So it’s both a movie about the problems caused by addiction and the dynamic between father and son and how that relationship influences so many things. It looks emotionally devastating.

The Posters

Nic and David are shown in better times in a black-and-white photo on the first poster. Aside from the cast list at the top and the title at the bottom, the main element here is the reminder that this is based on a true story, mentioning the book that inspired the movie.

The Trailers

Before the first trailer came out there were two short videos released to whet people’s appetites, one that has Nic arguing with his father that he just wants to be understood, and one that takes a similar approach but is more gentle in its presentation.

That trailer opens with the same scene shown in the first clip before alternating between footage of Nic and David struggling to understand each other as adults and them being the idyllic father and son pair when Nic was younger. The problems they have with communicating and seeing the world from each other’s point of view are the dominant themes in the trailer as we see Nic just want to be accepted for who he is and David insist that he’s better than the issues Nic is dealing with. Carell and Chalamet look to be giving high-energy performances here, but we don’t get much of the characters played by Tierney and Ryan, which is too bad.

The second trailer continues highlighting the dynamic between Nic and David, showing that at least in part Nic’s problems stem from feeling the need to live up to his father expectations and love and I don’t think I’ll be able to watch this movie.

Online and Social

The website for the movie has both trailers under “Videos,” along with a “Synopsis,” “Gallery” and plenty of prompts to buy tickets and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram links. What’s nice to see is that not only are the books by Nic and David Sheff available to purchase for those who want to explore more but there’s also a link to a seperate site with contact information for those who may be dealing with addiction in one way or another. That’s just the kind of real world connection that should be on more sites for movies that deal with real issues like this.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The trailers have been used as paid posts on social media but I haven’t seen and can’t find any online ads or TV spots.

Media and Publicity

With this being Chalamet’s first post-CMBYN project to go through a full marketing cycle, the release of a first still was greeted with plenty of attention and interest. Later on Chalamet and Carell appeared at CinemaCon to debut footage and talk about the story with the executives and press in attendance.

The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, with the cast and crew appearing there to partake in Q&As and screenings. A short while later Chalamet was interviewed in a piece where he talked about the challenges of shooting such an emotionally raw story.

While in Toronto the whole cast did a handful of interviews and Q&As, allowing Chalamet to talk about how he lost a lot of weight and had to go to some difficult emotional places for the role, how he geeked out at working with Carell and Ryan since he’s a massive fan of “The Office” and how he’s become friends with the real person he’s playing in the film and received encouragement from Nic.

A Chicago Film Festival screening was also booked.

Meanwhile both Carell and Chalemet hit the talk shows to promote the movie.

Overall

Well, as I said at the outset, that looks like it will emotionally wreck me. Even putting aside the issues of addiction and substance abuse that are obviously key to the story, the theme of paternal expectations being so pervasive that Nic has to escape however he can from under their weight seems…rough. Even if the audience can’t relate to the substance abuse, they will likely find the crushing expectations resonate.

The movie has some decent buzz coming out of its festival screenings and benefits from what seem to be strong performances from Chalamet and Carell. This seems like it’s the kind of release that could gain some word of mouth among early audiences and expand into a hit in the last part of the year.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Amazon, with support from AMC Theaters, released a video featurette recapping the movie’s Toronto Film Festival appearance and activities.

The cast and crew talked more about the difficult emotional material they tackled at the movie’s premiere.

Another clip expanded on the diner scene that’s shown in the trailers and was one of the first teasers released and one more showed the way Nic and David had grown apart.

There’s a new featurette with the stars of the film talking about the emotional impact of the story.

Chalamet appeared on “The Late Show” a few weeks after the movie hit theaters.